Bobby Petrino, widely regarded as one of the brightest offensive minds/playcallers in the game, is returning to the FBS ranks as offensive coordinator at UNLV under new coach Barry Odom, the school announced Thursday.
Petrino has been the head coach at Missouri State the past three seasons. He guided the Bears to FCS playoff appearances in two of his three seasons. When Petrino arrived, Missouri State had last played in the playoff in 1990.
This will be Petrino's first assistant-coaching job since 2002, when he was the offensive coordinator at Auburn. Overall, counting a couple of promotions, this will be his 18th coaching job.
"Barry Odom is a talented coach who has always been highly respected and I really look forward to working with him at UNLV," Petrino said in a news release. "I'm excited to be part of the new direction of the Rebels and compete for championships. We had a great three years at Missouri State but I thought this was the time in my career to step away from the head role and get back into a coordinator position to focus on moving the ball and scoring points and helping win games in Las Vegas."
Petrino, 61, has been wildly successful in previous head-coaching stops. He coached Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson at Louisville, elevated Arkansas and Louisville to national relevance for the first time in years, and has won 66% of his games as a college head coach.
But he also has met controversy along the way, most notably at Arkansas, when he was fired in April 2012 after school officials said he lied about a motorcycle accident while riding with a woman hired as a football staffer by Petrino and with whom he was having an affair. The Hogs had won 11 games the previous season, including a Cotton Bowl win, and finished No. 5 in the final AP poll. They won 10 games in 2010 and played in the Sugar Bowl.
"Unfortunately, I will always get to carry that with me, how it ended there," Petrino told ESPN this summer. "I hurt a lot of people and let a lot of people down."
Petrino, who coached the NFL's Atlanta Falcons for part of the 2007 season, was heavily criticized by coaches and players on that team for leaving to take the Arkansas job with three games remaining in the season. The Falcons were 3-10 at the time of Petrino's abrupt departure.
Petrino had two separate head-coaching stints at Louisville. He led the Cardinals to a pair of top-10 finishes in 2004 and 2006, the only times in school history that has happened, before leaving to take the Falcons' job after agreeing to a new deal at Louisville. He was out of coaching for a year in 2012 after being fired at Arkansas and then coached at Western Kentucky for a season before returning to Louisville.
His second stint at Louisville was also filled with wins until the end. The Cardinals went 21-11 in league games 2014-17 and won nine games twice in four seasons, but it all unraveled in 2018. Petrino's father died just before the start of the season, and the Cardinals lost their last nine games, many of those routs. Petrino was fired with two games remaining in the season. He was again out of football for a year in 2019 before being hired at Missouri State.
Petrino's penchant for calling a game on offense and keeping defenses off balance has been lauded by some of the best coaches in the country.
"Having coached against him -- the things they do on offense, the way his players are coached -- it's phenomenal," Alabama's Nick Saban told ESPN this summer. "... He's one of the toughest guys I've gone against."
Odom on Thursday called him "one of the greatest offensive minds in all of football."
"I know he will be a tremendous leader, mentor and teacher for our student-athletes," Odom said. "I'm thrilled to bring his experience to UNLV. His creativity on offense will compliment our program in every way."
New Louisville coach Jeff Brohm, who coached under Petrino at Western Kentucky and Louisville, added: "He could take a group of college students on an intramural team, put them out there on the field and help them win games."
Petrino also had discussions in recent weeks with Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher about the Aggies' offensive coordinator job and talked to other schools about openings.
One of the things that appealed to Petrino about the UNLV job was the challenge of helping Odom rebuild the program, which has suffered through nine straight losing seasons. Las Vegas is also a short plane flight from where Petrino's mother lives in Montana.
Petrino's son-in-law, Ryan Beard, will be a top candidate to replace him as Missouri State head coach. Beard is the Bears' defensive coordinator.